Feminists for the Unborn: Speak Up

On the 25th anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler, some feminists are understandably worried that the rights of certain women—childbearing women—might be compromised.

Other feminists, such as myself, continue to hope that one day soon the rights of certain women—unborn women—might return to the public conscience and official protection of Canadians.

It has been a long, difficult, and worthy battle to emancipate women from stupid attitudes, demeaning practices, and horrible laws. It is now 2013 and Canada is not as it was. Sexism is still evident, and always will be, but it enjoys neither social acceptance nor institutional support. It is time to welcome tiny women into our circle of protection along with their mothers.

One can appreciate that for social change to take place in the world as it is, issues need radical simplification so that the necessary force can be concentrated on single pressure points. The bracketing-out of the rights of unborn women in favour of the rights of childbearing women was one of the understandable, if also deeply regrettable, consequences of the Realpolitik of feminist struggle. Feminists who used to champion the rights of unborn women were silenced by the rest of the movement and told to get in line: the rights of (adult) women were the cause of the moment, and every other consideration had to be co-opted or deferred.

Now, however, we are in a different era. Now we can see that granting a woman full rights over her body, a central and valid concern recognized by all sensible people and by the institutions of the country, should never have extended to granting her full rights over another woman’s body, the female child she carries in pregnancy. In the truly holy war for women’s rights, granting the childbearing woman the authority to kill her unborn-child/woman was a bridge much too far.

We feminists therefore should be grateful that we now occupy a social space in which we can admit our mistakes, just as we have been hectoring sexists to admit theirs. We should be able to recognize a good argument as a good argument, whether or not it is made by a woman. Female feminists should be secure enough in their own social safety now to put aside their preoccupation with themselves and consider the needs of others, including the most vulnerable human beings there are: women in utero.

We must begin by acknowledging what every pregnant woman knows: that what is living within her is another person, another human being. One of the great themes of our feminist movement is embodiment. So we must take seriously that mother and child are joined, in physiology and in dignity. The rights of one cannot be considered to the neglect of the other any more than the body of one can be discussed in disregard of the other’s.

Unborn children are, indeed, the great “others” of Canadian society today. The are literally, because legally, completely unprotected because they are unrecognized as persons. We feminists—of all people!—should be quick to recognize that sinister language of someone being “not a person” and we ought to be leaping to the defense of those who are marginalized and victimized as such.

So let Parliament do what it should have done years and years ago: summon the courage to protect at least some of these women at least some of the time. And let us feminists also remedy what we once said, and stopped saying: That we are in favour of the rights of all women, and especially the most vulnerable.

UPDATE: A prochoice feminist finally owns up to the truth, and it ain’t pretty. But at least we’re now all talking about the same thing. I think she’s the very model of the white, liberal, middle-class feminist for whom “women’s rights” starts and ends with her own. But see what you think HERE. (HT: Gerry McDermott)


6 Responses to “Feminists for the Unborn: Speak Up”

  1. Verity3

    Thank you for this much-needed expression of pro-life feminism. I wonder, though, how helpful it is to claim “every pregnant woman knows: that what is living in her is another person.” Many people are committed to the belief that personhood begins at birth. This extremist belief has many extreme consequences, but the belief itself is a reality for many.

    • John

      I don’t mean that literally every woman knows that–how could I prove such a contention? I am appealing to the reader’s intuition and experience, on the basis of my own. I also suggest that what beliefs people “are committed to” are not always identical–and particularly not in vexed issues of import–to the actual intuitive knowledge they possess.

  2. Benjamin Alexander

    Let me fix that for you:
    Now we can see that granting a woman full rights over her body, a central and valid concern recognized by all sensible people and by the institutions of the country, should never have extended to granting her full rights over another woman’s body, the adult female body she is carried by in pregnancy.

    Also, roughly half of of pregnancies are male, whom you neglect entirely. It is a symbolical resonant oversight, which says more about you than anything I could write down.

    • John

      Very helpful–not, to be sure, in the way you apparently intended, but illuminating nonetheless.

  3. Carmen

    If I’m understanding Benjamin’s comment properly, I think I have a similar annoyance with the category of ‘feminism’ being extended to mean ‘oppressed and defenseless minorities/people.’ Granted, It’s not like you’re the only one doing that (from what I understood in my Hermeneutics class, the feminist movement has tried to make itself about “much more” than liberating oppressed females). But I find it a frustrating rhetorical move when an initially focussed movement makes itself about something much bigger, but still calls itself the same name and still emphasizes its initial focus over the new, additional ones. It’s a deceptive blurring of categories to add further weight to the initial cause, and I don’t like it. Why not be straightforward in your blog that it’s not a feminist cause, but a ‘defending helpless people’ cause that you are bringing to bear on the abortion discussion? It would make your post more accessible to people who have a bad or understandably narrow understanding of what feminism means, and it would bring a less deceptive feel to it.


Comments are closed.